Written by Guest Contributor and developmental psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Adams of Personalized Parenting
Life is busy. Throw a full-time job and kids into the mix, and life becomes especially busy. Time is a precious commodity for an overloaded parent, and it is also the resource children crave most. Between a child’s birth and when they leave for college, there are about 940 Saturdays. If your child is four (like mine is), 208 of those have already passed. In addition to the ever-fleeting weekends, weekdays are laden with logistics of careers and making it through daily routines (bath, bedtime, homework), with many families clocking-in only two hours of time with their child between work and sleep.
The good news? Children thrive and gain valuable skills and experiences when they engage in activities (and with caregivers) outside of their parents; and despite busy schedules competing for time and attention, a busy parent is still extraordinarily influential and important in a child’s life. With a few moments of mindfulness and intentionality, busy parents can make quality time with their children really count.
The Magic of FIVE minutes
Parents, rejoice! Research shows that the amount of quality time needed to make an impact in the relationship with our children might be shorter than we assume. Several studies have shown that as little as five minutes of 1:1, child-directed play and interaction (at least five times a week) can have a significant impact on parent-child attachment. 5-minutes is brief enough to make it manageable for parents, but long enough to make an impact.
Quality over Quantity
If your immediate response to the above was – “I spend far more than five minutes with my child,” it’s important to note that how we are spending that time is critical. All too often, when we find a moment to interact with our children (or sit down to play with them), we are simultaneously checking email, mentally revising our to-do list, and getting up to throw in one more load of laundry (or tidy-up, or make a meal…). An important part of making sure the time we are spending with our kids is quality, is ensuring that the time is focused on them. Put your phone on the other side of the room and make a conscious decision to use the time to be mindful, present, and engaged.
Schedule it (and follow-through)
Most families have daily and weekly routines or patterns that they follow to make sure tasks get done for the day. Scheduling some “special time” with your child can become part of the routine, and have powerful implications. Experts suggested that this special time is focused on play (rather than reading books at bedtime, or another “typical” routine), and it helps to give it a name (i.e., “it’s time for our special play time!”). Having time scheduled for short periods of focused play, if it occurs on a regular basis, ensures that connecting becomes part of the routine. Having a visual schedule for your child is a great idea, and anchoring special 1:1 time as part of that routine gives children a sense of security that they will have protected time with you. This knowledge helps curb frustrations on the part of the child and reduces the likelihood that children will seek our your attention through negative behavior.
Build in weekly (or monthly, or yearly) traditions.
In addition to the frequent, short times of focused play, “special” events and activities can also be treasured memories. Research supports the idea that family traditions are an important component to healthy families. They provide children with a sense of security and help to solidify the family as a united entity. The traditions can be small, and occur on a weekly basis, such as a Friday night pajama walk around the neighborhood, or the reliable Taco Tuesday dinner. Traditions can also be special moments during the year where you celebrate the relationship between a parent and a child. In my own family, my brother and I each had a special day once a year that was dedicated to us. These days could be declared by the child a few days in advance and consisted of a vacation from school, and child-chosen special activities and meals for the day (within reason). It is still one of my most salient memories from childhood, and one I will carry on with my daughter.
Make Routines Playful
One of the difficulties related to finding time is that it is generally taken up by other demands. Days are filled with rushing to activities, making dinner, and getting kids through routines. This is especially hard for working parents as the majority of the time they spend with kids is dominated by high-demand times of moving them through routines (i.e., the beginning and end of the day). Making a mental shift away from thinking about these times as chores to slog through, try to make them more enjoyable. Don’t be afraid to be a little silly as you are getting them dressed, connect and talk to them on car rides to activities, and engage them in joining you while you make dinner or pack lunches. You may find that these tasks feel less like a chore, and your children will likely be more cooperative during these moments if you are engaged and having fun. Yes, including the kids in these activities might result in them taking a bit longer (and might not always be possible), but it is multi-tasking in the best sense of the word – bringing in joy and playfulness to the everyday tasks of parenting.
And with that: I know your time is limited – so put down your phone, shut your computer, and go turn some minutes into memories with your kids.
About the Author
Dr. Elizabeth Adams is a clinical psychologist who specializes in child development, child behavior, and working with children and families. She has been working in the field of child mental health for over 10 years and has experience working in community settings, schools, clinics, and hospitals. She provides training and education to students and professionals in a variety of settings and has presented at national and international conferences. She has also published articles and book chapters on child development and has been interviewed by magazines and radio programs regarding her expertise in child development and behavior. Elizabeth provides direct parent coaching to parents across the world through her online coaching practice, Personalized Parenting. For more information, visit www.personalizedparenting.org.